Random Treasure

Although the Savage Worlds rules don’t assume the Sorting Algorithm of Evil by default, I sometimes find it useful. When I do, I assign threats and treasure by ranks much like character ranks – i.e. Novice, Seasoned, Veteran, Heroic or Legendary.

MUNDANE TREASURE

I use one of two options here, because I haven’t quite made my mind up which is best.

  • CV: Each monster slain adds its CV (Showdown points value) to the next treasure the heroes find. (I use MetaCreator, which calculates the CV for me, so this is data I get as a byproduct of creating monsters and NPCs.)
  • AHQ: This method was inspired by Advanced HeroQuest. The party may roll as many dice as they like, and get loot equal to the total score times $10 – so, a result of 7 would give $70 in coins, gems, chalices, carpets and what have you. However, if any of the dice roll a 1, the heroes find nothing of value in that cache. The die type depends on the treasure’s rank – Novice treasures use d6, Seasoned ones d8, Veterans d10, and Heroic d12; at Legendary level, the heroes are not pursuing mere gold, but artefacts of world-shaking importance.

MAGIC ITEMS

Here’s my table of random magic items for dungeon crawls. I treat them as if they had been made by Weird Science, so that each comes with a charge of 10 power points. I determine the power randomly, based on the rank required to learn it (which I assume matches the rank of the treasure hoard) and then decide what form the device takes – Bolt, for instance, might be a rod or wand, while Detect/Conceal Arcana might be a necklace or amulet.

Die Novice Seasoned Veteran Heroic Legendary
01 Armour Barrier Fly Shape Change Shape Change
02 Beast Friend Blast Greater Healing    
03 Bolt Dispel Puppet    
04 Boost/Lower Trait Invisibility Shape Change    
05 Burrow Quickness Zombie    
06 Burst Shape Change      
07 Deflection Telekinesis      
08 Detect/Conceal Arcana Teleport      
09 Elemental Manipulation        
10 Entangle        
11 Environmental Protection        
12 Fear        
13 Healing        
14 Light        
15 Obscure        
16 Shape Change        
17 Smite        
18 Speak Language        
19 Speed        
20 Stun        

You’ll notice some gaps there; nobody’s made it past Novice yet, so it hasn’t been a problem so far! I plan to use a d20 for Novice powers, a d8 for Seasoned, and a d6 for the others, although that could well change if I introduce more powers. One could also have items granting the user temporary edges.

Shape Change appears in several lists; use the table on p. 93 of the rulebook to determine what sorts of animal the item can turn the finder into at each rank.

Boost/Lower Trait requires a subtable to determine which trait it affects, and another die roll to see whether it boosts or lowers the trait. Any trait not available in the campaign indicates an item broken beyond repair, and possibly of unidentifiable purpose.

D6 + D6 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 Agility Climbing Intimidation Piloting Survival Psionics
2 Smarts Driving Investigation Repair Swimming Spellcasting
3 Spirit Fighting Knowledge Riding Taunt Weird Science
4 Strength Gambling Lockpicking Shooting Throwing Power Points
5 Vigour Guts Notice Stealth Tracking Power Points
6 Boating Healing Persuasion Streetwise Faith Power Points

The type of Knowledge boosted depends on the location – in the tomb of a mighty warrior, for instance, it might be Knowledge: Tactics.

Power Points indicates a device with no specific power, just points someone with an Arcane Background can use to cast – usually the item has 5 power points.

Review of Mongoose Traveller

I’ve been all Travellered out for a while, but recently I started thinking about coming back to it. The question was, which version? There are at least 9; Classic Traveller (1977 or 1981 flavours), MegaTraveller, Traveller: The New Era, Traveller 4 (AKA Marc Miller’s Traveller), GURPS Traveller, Traveller20, Traveller 5, Traveller Hero, and Mongoose Traveller. I’ve tried all of them except the last two, and so far nothing has really captured the feel of the original.

Until now. Read on, and learn more.

In a Nutshell: Retains the Classic Traveller feel, while integrating ideas from other editions. 194 page PDF or hardback book. Intended as a base rules set for a variety of SF settings.

Contents: Introduction (3 pages); Character Creation (42 pages); Skills and Tasks (11 pages); Combat (9 pages); Encounters and Dangers (17 pages); Equipment (19 pages); Spacecraft Design (9 pages); Common Spacecraft (23 pages); Spacecraft Operations (9 pages); Space Combat (6 pages); Psionics (8 pages); Trade (7 pages); World Creation (15 pages); Index; Adverts; blank Character and Subsector forms.

INTRODUCTION

This gives the usual quick introduction to what an RPG is, explanations of dice and tech level conventions, short descriptions of various campaign types, and an example of play.

CHARACTER CREATION

The usual six characteristics are diced for on 2d6; Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intellect, Education, Social Standing. Characters begin at age 18, with 3-6 skills at level 0, depending on their Education, then choose a career from a list of 12; grognards like myself may think of this as the basic six careers, but with Other split into 7 sub-divisions, much as in Supplement 4.

A dice roll determines whether the character is allowed to join or not, failure offers the choice of the draft or entering the Drifter career, gaining level 0 in the service skills for his career (up to 6) as basic training. Once in a career, the character selects one of three specialisations – for example, a Scout might select Courier, Survey or Exploration as his speciality. The character then cycles round the familiar Traveller sequence of acquiring a skill, rolling for survival, rolling for advancement (used to be called commission and promotion) and so on. A new addition is Events; each term, the character rolls for an event, which may result in a variety of things which enhance or degrade him either mechanically (e.g. new skills or bonuses on later rolls) or by expanding his backstory (romance, illness). These also generate Contacts, Allies and Rivals – NPCs whom the character knows. At the end of one’s career, one receives mustering out benefits, which may be cash, ship shares, combat implants, characteristic increases, weapons, other equipment, or membership of the Travellers’ Aid Society (which provides free starship tickets bimonthly).

Characters can have two different careers, which used to be limited to Vargr, but only gain basic training for the first one. There is also a Psion career, buried in the Psionics section as it was in T4.

Players are intended to generate characters as a group, since some of the events tie your character to those of others in the group; each such connection gets you an extra skill. Finally, once careers are completed, each character gets one or more extra skills, to ensure that the group as a whole has the skills needed for the chosen campaign type, and that every character in the group will be able to contribute something. It also means that the larger the group, the more highly-skilled its members are likely to be, which feels a bit counter-intuitive; but the referee can always limit the number of terms served to balance this.

The combination of ship shares, aging crises and medical bills for injuries mean that both individual characters and groups as a whole are likely to begin the game in debt, giving an immediate motivation for adventuring.

Optional rules are provided for generating characters as individuals rather than as part of a group, and for point-buy character creation. The section closes with traits for alien races, allowing GMs to create new ones and players to generate characters from the major races of the Third Imperium, the default setting.

SKILLS AND TASKS

The task system is a streamlined and tidied-up version of the one from MegaTraveller. One of the attractions of Traveller is that almost everything is rolled on 2d6, and a score of 8 or more indicates success. The 2d6 roll is modified by skills, characteristics, and circumstances; one key penalty is the –3 for lack of the relevant skill, though that penalty is reduced one point for each level of Jack Of All Trades skill known.

There are now nearly 50 basic skills, most of which split into various specialisations. Knowing the basic skill allows you to try anything in that arena without the –3 penalty, with your specialisation providing a bonus on tasks in that specific field.

COMBAT

Traveller combat has always been brutal and deadly, and this edition is no different.

Combat is essentially handled as a series of skill checks. At the start of combat, everyone rolls 2d6 for initiative, modified by Dexterity and possibly Tactics skill – this is simpler and neater than MegaTraveller’s roving DM pool, if less tactically flexible.

In each combat round, each character gets on significant action (make an attack or other skill check), one minor action (move or reload), however many reactions he wants (dodge), and however many free actions the referee thinks is reasonable. Every time you take a reaction, though, your initiative and effective skill levels for the round take penalties.

Attacks are a skill check, with modifiers for equipment, range and conditions.

Damage is inflicted on the character’s physical characteristics, as in CT, but unlike CT you always start with Endurance, and reduce it to zero before moving on to another characteristic (the original CT approach is available as an optional rule). When two are at zero you are unconscious; when three are at zero, you die. Even with armour (which reduces incoming damage), one or two solid hits will kill almost any character.

There is a section on vehicle combat, but that doesn’t enter into my games often, so I skipped gaily past it.

ENCOUNTERS AND DANGERS

This section covers animals, environmental hazards, healing, NPCs and planetside encounters.

Animals are generated in much the same way as in previous editions, starting from their ecological niche (e.g. scavenger), type (e.g hijacker), then branching out into size and game statistics. Modifiers to various attributes are based on the local terrain.

In two departures from the plain CT approach, the referee is encouraged to select a quirk or theme which is shared by all animals encountered on a particular planet (a random table is provided to get you started); and animals have characteristics (based on size) and skills (based on type) much like PCs or NPCs. The creature’s Strength then determines its damage, and its Pack score (equivalent to Social Standing) determines how many are encountered. This all looks like a good expansion of the CT rules, and half-a-dozen example creatures are listed.

Environmental dangers includes rules for disease and poison (make an Endurance check every so often, take damage each time you fail), extreme temperatures (take damage every time period), and weather (penalties on skill checks), falling (take damage depending on height and gravity).

Next come rules for fatigue, unconsciousness, and recovery from wounds, whether by natural healing or various forms of medical treatment.

Then we have a section on NPCs. The referee is encouraged to split these into NPCs who appear in a single scene only (who get a name and a personality trait or two), and recurring NPCs, who get characteristics and skills as well. While the latter can be generated in the same depth as PCs, one is advised to simply assign characteristics and a few skills, with the guidance that a skilled professional has expertise level 2-3 in what he does for a living, and level 0-1 in half a dozen other skills. Tables are provided for random determination of personality traits and careers, the latter intended for NPC contacts, allies, enemies and patrons.

A few patrons are listed, with adventure seeds in the venerable Supplement 6 format – patron, required skills, rewards, player and referee information, with the last including several different possible outcomes.

There are also random tables for determining the patron (much like the CT patrons table), the mission he wants the PCs to undertake, its target (person, place, or thing), and likely opposition. This is again a good expansion of the basics in earlier editions.

The old random encounter table of CT has been split into starport, urban and rural encounters, 36 of each type.

Finally, there are two pages of stock NPCs with game statistics – thugs, guards, ship crewmen and so on.

EQUIPMENT

Tools and gear do a lot to set the tone of a game setting, and Mongoose Traveller is no exception. There are discussions of the game currency (Credits) and the forms it can take, long-term subsistence costs, and then we dive into the equipment catalogue, where each item is described, and assigned a cost, mass, tech level, and sometimes an armour value, required skills, and combat statistics. Most equipment can be modified by added options, which are listed separately at the end of each equipment group.

For most sections, such as armour, communications, computers, medical, drugs, sensors, tools, weapons, vehicles and survival gear, this chapter essentially gathers and harmonises the equipment lists of previous editions, usually with variations by tech level – generally higher-tech versions are more expensive, lighter, and easier to use. There are a few new items such as stunners and laser pistols, things players always wanted but referees often had to house rule.

CT originally ignored cybernetic, genetic or surgical augmentation, as befitted the 1950s and 1960s SF stories it emulated. However, such a game is less credible to a modern audience, and rather than go the retro route like, say, Slipstream, the author has added a variety of enhancements and implants which a character can buy. These manifest themselves by giving bonuses to particular characteristics or skills, or giving the character the attributes of a piece of equipment.

Robots and drones were an optional supplement in CT, but here they are treated (sensibly) as just another type of equipment. A few stock robots are described, but there are no rules for creating one’s own – no doubt the Robots supplement deals with that.

SPACECRAFT DESIGN

This is a welcome return to simplicity after the relentless increase in complexity seen as previous editions were published. Pick a hull; select some options; choose drive components from the relevant table; add fuel, bridge, computer and electronics; add components such as staterooms, weapons and small craft. The process is much like the original CT, the main difference is the broader range of options.

An interesting addition is the page of rules for alternative FTL drive systems and power sources, including warp drive (which I expect to see in the 2300AD sourcebook for this system), teleport drive (instantaneous jumps) and hyperspace drive (which reminded me of Babylon 5, and might be used in the B5 sourcebook – which I haven’t seen yet).

Tables of software and crew requirements are included, with the option of running minimum, average or full crews. Skeleton crews are cheaper, but react more slowly to crises.

COMMON SPACECRAFT

These are the old favourites, rated for the new rules: scoutship, seeker, free trader, far trader, subsidised merchant and liner, lab ship, close escort, yacht, mercenary cruiser, corsair and small craft. New standard vessels are the heavy freighter and the police cutter, which is a 100 ton System Defence Boat. Each ship has descriptive text, a worksheet breaking down components, mass and cost, and deck plans. My only complaint with this section is that the deck plans are nigh on unreadable as they have been greatly reduced.

SPACECRAFT OPERATIONS

This chapter covers boarding, docking, landing, maintenance and its costs, encounters in space (a random encounter table, much expanded from CT days), jump travel, hazards of spaceflight such as radiation, types of passage (i.e., tickets). repairs, sensors and their use, onboard security measures and how to defeat them, and travel times at various accelerations.

SPACE COMBAT

This functions much like personal combat, being a series of skill checks. Unlike the earliest versions of CT, the boardgame approach to space combat has been replaced by a system of range bands.

Initially, the referee determines the range to the opposition and each side rolls for initiative. The players also specify who is doing what aboard their ship – this determines what skill checks they can affect.

Play then proceeds in turns, each composed of a movement phase, a combat phase, and a miscellaneous action phase for things such as launching small craft, making running repairs, or conducting a hyperspace jump.

For those so inclined, there is an abstract method of resolving boarding actions.

Each ship system has several levels of damage, which are checked off as incoming fire inflicts harm. There are rules for the damage crew take if they are in the affected area, and also for using ship weapons in personal combat. (You know you want to.)

PSIONICS

This will be familiar to any player of previous editions; rolling for psionic strength, the Psionics Institute and testing for talents, and the talents themselves: Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Telekinesis, Awareness and Teleportation. As ever, the referee has the option to add other powers, collectively called "Special".

One innovation here is that while each talent acquired makes it harder to acquire the next, as usual, some talents have die modifiers which make them easier to learn.

A second is that characters do not have to "level up" their psionic skill to use higher-level powers; you either have the talent, or you don’t. However, using powers is a task, based on psionic strength and your skill level with the talent, so higher skill levels make one more effective. Cost to use a power is also affected by range and other factors.

Finally, as per T4, this section includes an additional career – psion. Given the secretive and prurient nature of psi-powers in the default setting, this is likely to be used more for NPCs than PCs.

There are a number of new powers for each talent, and new items of psionic equipment. This is interesting to read, but while I have always allowed psionics, they never play a large part in my campaigns, so I probably won’t use this section much.

TRADE

Perhaps slightly out of a logical sequence, this covers interstellar trade – the PCs as crew on a tramp freighter, a la "Firefly", has always been a common campaign type.

The section explains how to make money with a merchant starship; passengers, freight, mail contracts, and speculative trade. This last is high-risk, high-reward; rather than shipping freight containers for a flat fee, the PCs use their own cash to buy goods low and sell them high.

The trade goods tables have been modified somewhat since I last played, as have what goods are available on which worlds – each world type has some goods that are always present to buy, which takes some of the guesswork out of trading.

Over the last couple of decades, trading has faded into the background of my games, because I have much less time to play than previously; this section, I would mostly use for solitaire or postal play.

WORLD CREATION

Again, this will be familiar to any player or GM from previous versions. An 8×10 hexmap for each subsector; select how frequent worlds are in that area, and dice for the presence of one in each hex; make a variety of 2d6 rolls for starport type, size, atmosphere, hydrographics, population, government, and law level; roll 1d6 for tech level. Most of the rolls have modifiers depending on the results of other, earlier rolls, and the combinatios of the results determine trade classifications, and thus what goods fetch the best prices on that world. Each result is looked up on a table to determine the type of atmosphere, government and so on. There are some interesting optional rules for space opera or hard SF settings, which apply additional modifiers to the rolls to reflect those genres more accurately.

Rolls are also made for the presence of gas giants (allowing free refuelling, if your ship can cope with unrefined fuel), naval bases and scout bases. The GM assigns travel zones and other bases, which have no specific effects mechanically, but are a good source of scenario ideas.

A new idea is that of trade routes; specific world types within four hexes of each other may have a regular trade route. Communication routes are assigned by the GM, as in every version of Traveller since 1977.

Another new statistic is world temperature, which is modified by other statistics.

Law levels are expanded to show the likely response by the police to anti-social behaviour, and sentencing if the case goes to trial. (Anti-social behaviour by PCs? Surely not!)

Finally, there is a table of cultural quirks which can be added to taste.

OTHER

The book closes with an index, some adverts, and the obligatory character sheet and subsector map. I should also mention the numerous snippets of background data for the default setting and optional rules, which are scattered throughout the main text.

CONCLUSION

This is a worthy inheritor of the Traveller mantle, close in spirit and feel to the original Little Black Books.

Over the years, I’ve drifted away from the random lifepath approach to character creation, so I can’t see myself using the character generation rules. I’ve also stopped designing new starships, the standard ones will do me just fine, so I won’t use the starship design rules either. If those items float your boat, though, they are here, well thought out and clearly explained.

As I’ve said in numerous reviews, I also don’t go in much for equipment chapters in any RPG – my campaigns are designed to play like action adventure movies, and I believe the SF hero needs only his wits, his weapons, and a communicator. That’s just me, and you can find any number of campaigns where (as the Universe RPG put it) the setting is defined by what equipment is available.

The things that do interest me are the expanded world creation and trade rules. If I get the time and the inclination, I might apply those as a stucco over the Imagoes subsector, if only to see what difference they would make. Watch this space, but don’t hold your breath.

Meanwhile, if you want a 21st century update of the grand-daddy of all SF RPGs, this is a good choice. Mongoose are taking Traveller in a direction Marc Miller mentioned in the 1970s as one of his objectives, namely that of using the game to explore aspects of SF settings that the books and movies don’t cover. So far I have seen setting books which customise the base rules for Babylon 5, Judge Dredd, Hammer’s Slammers, and Strontium Dogs, with a 2300AD adaptation said to be in the works. I can see myself building a collection of those… my wish list for future setting books includes Aliens/Predator, the Honorverse, the RCN series, the Serrano Legacy, and of course the Dumarest Saga. What about you?

The Imagoes Subsector

The Imagoes subsector is named for the species of sapient insectoids native to Mageer. It is a balkanised region of space, with nine small multiworld states and eight independent sovereign worlds. The most powerful state within the subsector is the Mageer Swarm, which includes Mageer itself and the subordinate human worlds of Ceveis, Esiserve, Zamaso and Aresar.

The Imagoes subsector has 39 worlds, with a total population of 11.357 billion. The highest population level is A, at Mageer; the highest tech level is D, at Esusce.

imagoes

Designer’s Notes

  • As previously advertised, I wanted a new subsector for season 2 of the Arioniad. I intended to generate the subsector by hand, but life’s too short – there are plenty of generators around on the web. Eventually I went with the generator at Isomage’s House, and it produced this for me at the click of a mouse. I’ll post the world profiles as they become relevant.
  • As a tip o’ the hat to Isomage for saving me so much time, the subsector name is an anagram of Isomage. Looking up Imagoes in the dictionary, I discover that an imago can be either an insect just after metamorphosis, or an idealised image of a parent. So the main themes of Season 2 will be the idealised image of a vanished empire which once controlled the area (hey, it’s traditional, all RPGs have them), and a race of intelligent insectoids living in the subsector.
  • I wanted the subsector to have a number of small interstellar states, rather than be part of a large empire, so I decided that worlds linked by communication routes are part of the same political unit, and are ruled by the highest-technology planet in the group – ties go to the higher population level. This gives me groups of 2-5 worlds ruled by Edcetequ, Teenes, Xemaais, Mageer, Enaniqu, Laarerer, Inleer, Esusce, and Inlaarin, and a number of independent worlds. The high population level at Mageer makes this the obvious candidate for the insection homeworld, at least to me; Mageer’s population is as big as it can get under these rules, and the largest insect colonies are those of the African driver ant, so I shall use that as a template for the Imagoes.
  • There is a town in Pakistan called Goth Bachal Aresar, so I decided to use Pakistani themes for Aresar.
  • Esusce has a high tech level, but a low population, which called to mind H Beam Piper’s novel Cosmic Computer; so I’ve made this a former outpost of the vanished empire, abandoned by the original owners and now mostly populated by archaeologists, scavengers and treasure hunters of various kinds.
  • Season 2 will begin with Arion & Co. misjumping into the Betiqu system, of which more anon.

Review of Alien Base

Alien Base is a first contact adventure for the Space Opera RPG, written by Larry Smith, illustrated by Jeff Dee, and published by Fantasy Games Unlimited in 1981. It’s been out of print for a while, but has recently reappeared on RPGNow for a couple of bucks as a PDF download.

In a Nutshell: The PCs are ordered to investigate the disappearance of a starship, and rescue any survivors. Given the title, you will not be surprised to find that hitherto unknown aliens are involved. Scenes of violence on the cover suggest that all does not go well for Our Heroes.

Contents: Description of the planet and star system where the missing ship was last seen; outlines of two new alien races; NPC character sheets; deckplans of a vehicle and the alien base itself.

Now, it’s hard to review any adventure without giving away either too much or too little, but I’ll do my best.

Alien Base is an enigma, wrapped in a dungeon crawl, wrapped in a planetary exploration. The party are drawn by their mission first to the planetary surface, then into contact with an alien race, then into the Alien Base and contact with one or more new alien races, and finally to an understanding of what happened to the missing ship, and what that means for their home civilisation. There are different endings depending on whether you wish to use this as a stand-alone adventure, or the first scenario in a planned story arc of five adventures.

(The other modules in the sequence were to have been Derelict, Slaveworld, Scoutship and Starmother, but I have pretty much given up looking for them and assume they were never published. If anyone knows differently, please let me know!)

The party can acquire, or lose, points depending on their actions – sometimes they will do the right thing or figure something out, which increases their score, and sometimes they will get something wrong, which decreases it. I particularly like the hard SF approach the author took; some points can only be obtained by applying scientific knowledge to the puzzles presented.

You could use that either as a basis for awarding experience points, or just as a means of seeing how well the group does. It would have been useful to have a table somewhere of what gains or loses points, and what the maximum score is, but the GM can knock that up quickly enough.

The only thing that really jars is that there is a point in the adventure where having translated written documents enables the group to understand the spoken form of a language. I house-ruled around that – running something over the text caused it to be spoken – but I would have preferred an explanation in the scenario itself.

Conclusion

Since this module came out, I have run it in a number of different game systems for almost every group of SF PCs I’ve had. Their levels of success have ranged from the group which went through it with military precision and got almost a perfect score, to the group who got so scared they ran away before they had completed the scenario, to the group who managed to kill themselves to a man without actually getting into the base.

It is one of my all-time favourite scenarios, matched only by my go-to fantasy campaign starter, The Halls of Tizun Thane from White Dwarf 18. Highly recommended.

Classic Traveller – Savaged

I’ve never felt a need for anything more complex than CT Book 2 for Starships, or Book 3 for Worlds and Adventures, and I don’t think I’m alone; throughout all the incarnations of Traveller, the heart of subsector and world generation remains unchanged.

Over the last 30 years, though, the trend has been to give players more control over their characters, both during character generation (point-buy systems and templates replacing random die rolls) and during play (narrative control through luck points, action points, bennies or what have you). If CT has weaknesses for gaming in the 21st century, they are the character generation and combat systems. So, for my CT game, I’m using Savage Worlds to replace Book 1: Characters & Combat.

I’ll need a few interface rulings…

Characteristics: Strength is the same in both systems. CT Dexterity and Intelligence are SW Agility and Smarts, respectively. CT Endurance is both Vigour and Spirit in SW. CT Education and Social Standing are dropped, except that Social Standing B or above implies the Noble edge. You could also use extreme values of Social Standing to justify Rich, Filthy Rich, Poverty or even Wanted.

The CT value is rounded down to the next nearest die type. So, for example, Dexterity 7 becomes Agility d6, or Intelligence 11 becomes Smarts d10.

Skills: Expertise level 0 (or 1/2 if you’re really Old School) is d4, increasing one die type per additional level. So Pilot-3, for example, becomes Piloting d10. To avoid introducing a Vacc Suit skill, I’ll treat it as Common Knowledge for spacers, and a Knowledge specialisation for non-spacers.

Edges: The only Arcane Background permitted is Psionics. Three new edges are needed:

  • Scout Ship: Constructive possession of a surplus scout ship; balanced by needing to report to the service at regular intervals, and the fact that everyone will assume you are a spy.
  • Free Trader: Constructive possession of a tramp freighter, balanced by the Poverty hindrance to reflect the enormous costs of upkeep.
  • TAS Membership: Exactly as described in CT.

Hindrances: No change required, CT characters didn’t really have them, except that known psionics were Outsiders. I’ve decided that psionics who are not yet identified as such count as Wanted, since they are in deep trouble if anyone figures out what they can do.

Gear: Savage Worlds has everything you need up to powered armour and laser weapons, and the non-combat equipment like vacc suits and portable computers can be taken straight from Book 1. We just need to say that Cr 1 = $1 and 1 kg = 2 lbs, and we’re away.

Psionics: In over 30 years of playing Traveller, I can count the number of psionic characters (both PC and NPC) in my campaigns on my fingers, and still have some fingers left over. The only change needed is that the Mind-Reading power has to be brought in from the PEGC forums – it’s central to the way CT operates psionics.

It’s HOW Big?!?

This came about because I started wondering what different animal sizes from assorted games meant compared to each other, and to real creatures. It’s the sort of table I think will be very useful, spend ages working out, and then never actually use, because the act of working it out gives me enough of a feel to wing it during games. The sort of player questions it was intended to help me answer are:

  • “How much does that dire wolf carcass weigh? Can we fit it in the back of the cart?”
  • “How big is a 30-ton pouncer, anyway?”
  • “How many kangaroos do we need on the other side of the scales to balance his character?”
Classic Traveller Savage Worlds d20, D&D etc Real World Examples CT Examples
- - Fine Insect
- - Diminutive Bat
- - Tiny Rat, Weasel
1 kg - Tiny Hawk
3 kg -2 Tiny Cat, Monkey Anola, Beaked Monkey
6 kg -2 Small Eagle, Terrier Tree Kraken
12 kg -2 Small Badger
25 kg -2 Small Small Dog Chamax Juvenile, Chimearoc, Sea Bear
50 kg -1 Medium Baboon, Kangaroo, Labrador, Wolf Bush Runner, Chamax Hunter
100 kg +0, +1 Medium Human, Dire Wolf Groat, Snowcat
200 kg +2 Large Gorilla, Lion, Tiger Thingvellir’s Crested Trapper
400 kg +2 Large Cow, Horse
800 kg +3 Large Brown Bear, Bison
1600 kg +4 Huge Hippo, Great White Shark
3200 kg +4, +5 Huge Small elephant, Orca, Rhinoceros Small Daghshark
6000 kg +6, +7 Huge Large elephant, small Triceratops, T. Rex Chamax Maternal, Nobble
12000 kg Huge Large Triceratops
18000 kg
24000 kg
30000 kg Gargantuan Brontosaurus
36000 kg Gargantuan
40000 kg Gargantuan Humpback Whale
44000 kg Gargantuan Large Daghshark
- +9 Colossal Blue Whale (150 tons)
- +10 Colossal No known examples

 

Have I got any of this wrong? Can you fill in any of the gaps? Let me know!

Review of the Savage World of Solomon Kane

From Pinnacle Entertainment Group, creators of the Savage Worlds RPG. For those who don’t know… Solomon Kane, the Puritan witch-hunter, is another pulp hero created by Robert E Howard, best known for his stories of Conan the Barbarian. Kane travels the world seeking out evil and giving it a sound thrashing.

In a Nutshell: The world of R E Howard’s Solomon Kane as a Savage Worlds RPG. What’s not to like?

Solomon Kane (21 pages)

Unusually long for an introduction, this section opens with a piece of fiction in Howard’s style, setting the scene for how the player characters come to follow the Path of Kane. Next come an essay on what drives Kane himself; and summaries of the stories (and fragments of stories) Howard wrote about him.

Characters (36 pages)

This opens with a list of archetypical characters, and then explains character creation, Savage Worlds style. In essence, characters have attributes and skills, both rated as die types (e.g. "I have Strength d8"), and edges which grant them bonuses of various types – GURPS players would know these as Advantages, D&D players as Feats. This is a point-buy system, so all of those cost points; you have an allowance of points initially, and can get more by taking hindrances, which apply penalties to your character under specific circumstances.

This is the standard Savage Worlds approach, but with a couple of new hindrances (I like Cocky, which means the character must spend his first action in combat bragging) and a selection of edges (including Really Dirty Fighter, allowing you +2 on tricks and the ability to spend a benny to get The Drop on your foe) which tailor the system to this setting.

Arms and Equipment (12 pages)

As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to glaze over at the equipment section of RPGs, but here it is, with details of the armour, weapons, coinage, and adventuring gear of the 16th-17th centuries, the timeframe of Kane’s adventures.

Game Rules (32 pages)

These are the standard Savage Worlds rules. The only difference I could see on this reading was a wider range of tricks. I’ve reviewed SW before, so I won’t go into that here, other than to note that this game is self-contained and doesn’t require the SW rulebook. Whether you think that’s good (yay, it’s all in one place) or bad (I already paid for those pages!) is up to you.

Magic & Devilry (18 pages)

Again, this is largely standard SW fare. The two available arcane backgrounds are Shaman and Sorceror; priests of civilised cultures eschew magic, it seems. Spellcasting is different in the world of Kane; there are no power points, but to avoid horrendous minuses on casting rolls, the magician must prepare his spell for some time – so he can cast more often, but it takes longer. There are no direct offensive spells – the magician must be subtle. Spells last longer, but cannot be maintained. There is a new Spell Backlash Table, and a number of new spells – I especially like Animate Hand and Elemental Manipulation, and these and a few of the others may find their way into my vanilla SW games. The section finishes with a handy spell summary, which is most welcome and I hope becomes a feature of the next version of the basic rules.

Anything up to this point is for players and Game Master both; beyond this point, for the GM only.

The Art of Storytelling (13 pages)

This is your basic "how to be a GM" section. It looks a lot like the one in the SW Explorer’s Edition rulebook.

Creating Adventures (16 pages)

This is the usual “how to create an adventure” section. It follows the usual current advice to plot individual adventures out like a movie, stressing exotic locations. It also reminds the GM that Savage Worlds has no truck with the Sorting Algorithm of Evil – you meet what you meet, and it won’t always be a fair fight.

Here, too, is advice on how to create NPCs, whether major villains or not. As usual in SW games, the GM is advised not to design NPCs in detail, simply give them whatever attributes feel right for the character and don’t worry about whether they are balanced or not.

Next there is an adventure generator – a series of tables which can be used to determine the villain, his goal, the hook for bringing the PCs into the action, locations, villainous henchmen, and plot twists. There is an example adventure showing how to use this to create a scenario.

Finally, as is standard for SW settings, there is a Plot Point campaign called the Path of Kane. Without giving too much away, suffice to say that Kane and his friend N’Longa have uncovered an evil so great they cannot face it alone, and so N’Longa summons like-minded souls (the PCs) to assist them. The campaign is well thought out, and will take the PCs across the entire world in search of their goals. The chapters describing each continent (see below) each have a number of set-piece adventures, and the GM fills in between these with randomly-created scenarios to taste. These are framed by an initial adventure gathering the PCs together, and a couple of final ones wherein the ultimate evil is faced.

Savage World of Solomon Kane (6 pages)

This section is a useful briefing for players and GM alike, explaining the technology and beliefs of the 17th century.

The Old World (34 pages)

The first of the continent-describing chapters, this one focuses on Europe. It provides a brief overview of political geography, religion, travel and its dangers, notable people and events; then it heads into specific locations and set-piece adventures. Some of these are set in locations that will be familiar to Kane fans, and these are described both before and after Kane visits them – this approach is repeated for such locations in later chapters.

The Dark Continent (54 pages)

It’s fitting this should be the largest continent chapter, as Kane himself spent more time in Africa than anywhere else. This section covers getting there, geography, local empires, and adventures.

The New World (32 pages)

Kane did visit the New World, but this is mentioned only in passing in Howard’s stories, so the GM and campaign have more latitude here. Again, the chapter explains how to get there, local geography, the old empires (now largely conquered or destroyed), and a group of adventure scenarios.

Cathay and the Orient (24 pages)

The last of the continental sections covers the east: Hindoostan, Cathay and Nippon. It explains how to get there, describes the major countries one finds and their societies and religions, notable people, and then drives on into the local adventures.

Horrid Beasts of Solomon Kane (38 pages)

As with NPCs, the GM is encouraged to create them quickly, without worrying too much about balancing encounters or points values. The bestiary chapter begins with a list of monstrous abilities and their effects – stock SW stuff, although I thought I saw a couple of new abilities there – before heading into individual monster descriptions; the natural (animals, easily transported to any other SW game, and natural hazards), the unnatural (largely beasts from the Kane stories, or similar sorts of creatures), people (stock NPC archetypes), and famous people (memorable characters from the stories).

The book also includes a world map, a character sheet, and at the back, a repeat of the summary tables and some area effect templates.

Conclusion

The grim, dark setting will seem familiar to Warhammer players and fans of Hammer horror flims, both of which draw inspiration from Howard and like authors.

I would love to run this, or to play in a Kane campaign. This is one of the better Savage Worlds settings. For the moment, it goes on the shelf, awaiting a slot in my schedule. Some day, its turn will come.

Arioniad Season 2

Here’s the setup of my new Traveller sandbox. I’m lifting an idea from an early issue of the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society; running a character solo in real time, so that one real day equals one game day. This is easy to do with characters who are part of a ship’s crew, because there is a regular and well-defined cycle of events; but it will be more convenient to post these adventures in batches, probably on a weekly basis.

I have quite enough active games to keep me occupied for the moment, so these posts will be more about setting up the campaign than playing it, at least for a while. When one of the others drifts to a stop, I’ll switch back to the Arioniad.

RULES

In general I shall use Classic Traveller, although it will be a mixture of the 1977 and 1981 editions of the Little Black Books, plus some borrowings from Starter Traveller and maybe other games as well.

  • The 1977 edition had less reliance on the Imperium as remote but powerful central empire, and felt more like clusters of semi-independent worlds, which I think is more likely. I also preferred the skills, ship encounters and jump route tables in this edition.
  • The 1981 edition had some improvements worth having, notably the option to muster out on a failed survival roll and two skills per term for Scouts.
  • Starter Traveller had range band space combat, which is definitely worth stealing, and all the tables in one place.

I originally intended to go full-on Old School and use CT for character generation and combat, but decided to stick with Savage Worlds in the end. More on that in a later post. Does that mean I’m not playing “proper” Traveller? Probably, but I’ve always run Traveller by borrowing pieces from other games and bolting them on, and Traveller is an RPG defined more by its setting assumptions than its rules – witness its adaptations for GURPS, the Hero system, d20, and so on.

SETTING

I’m not happy with the season 1 subsector, so I’ll drop it in favour of a new one. Season 2 opens with Arion & Co. misjumping into it, of which more anon.

(This happens in the source literature too; off the top of my head, the universe of Elizabeth Moon’s Serrano Legacy changes almost entirely between the first and second books in the series; and EC Tubb’s Earl Dumarest gets flung halfway across the galaxy at the end of Mayenne, book 9 in the saga. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.)

The setting deserves more detailed posts, and it shall have them in due course.

CHARACTERS

I had planned to start over, but somewhat to my surprise, I’ve become quite attached to Arion, Dmitri and Coriander. The characters look like this:

Arion, Scout (0 xp)

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6. Skills: Fighting d6, Guts d6, Healing d6, Notice d6, Piloting d8, Repair d6, Shooting d6. Charisma 0, Pace 6, Parry 5, Toughness 7 (2). Hindrances: Heroic, Loyal: Friends. Edges: Ship. Gear: $25. Kevlar Vest: +2/4, Glock: 2d6, Knife: Str+d4.

Arion is just being reset to the original rules system and character sheet, so nothing special here. “Ship” is a setting-specific edge to represent his constructive possession of the scoutship Dolphin.

Coriander, Psion (0 xp)

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d6, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6. Skills: Fighting d4, Guts d6, Healing d6, Knowledge (Psionics) d4, Notice d6, Persuasion d6+2, Psionics d6, Shooting d4, Stealth d6. Charisma 2, Pace 6, Parry 4, Toughness 5, Power Points 10. Hindrances: Clueless, Loyal: Friends, Wanted. Edges: Arcane Background (Psionics), Attractive, Connections (Psionics Institute). Powers: Boost/Lower Trait, Healing, Mind Reading. Gear: $25. Kevlar Vest: +2/4, Glock: 2d6, Knife: Str+d4.

Coriander is Clueless because she grew up on a Lost World, but is daughter of the head of the Psionics Institute there, so has Connections. Being a psion in the CT universe makes her Wanted. Mind Reading covers CT Telepathy up to about level 4, and Boost/Lower Trait covers most of CT Awareness. Healing would be a CT Special, but it fits with the ending to Season 1 better than most other powers.

Dmitri, Spy (0 xp)

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d6, Strength d6, Vigor d6. Skills: Fighting d6, Guts d6, Investigation d8+2, Notice d6, Persuasion d4, Shooting d6, Streetwise d8+2. Charisma 0, Pace 6, Parry 5, Toughness 7 (2). Hindrances: Loyal: Friends, Wanted. Edges: Investigator. Gear: $25. Kevlar Vest: +2/4, Glock: 2d6, Knife: Str+d4.

Dmitri was the most straightforward to convert, and is essentially built around the Investigator professional edge. I was aiming for a hard-boiled private eye here, although strictly he is an espionage agent, Wanted by the opposition, whoever they turn out to be, and possibly by local law enforcement as well.

Irongrave Scenarios

“The DM’s job is to entertain, not to be original.” – Andrew Finch, D&D 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide

The Irongrave campaign will need adventure scenarios, obviously. I don’t want to put too much effort into them, partly because new campaigns are fragile things which perish easily, and partly because I’d rather spend what free time I have gaming rather than preparing. This is not a problem, because after buying games, magazines, modules and so forth for the last 30 years, I have more adventures than I can ever hope to run.

A quick rummage in the Old Games’ Graveyard, and I draw forth… Heroquest! (TM, ©, DSO and Bar by either Games Workshop or Milton Bradley, depending on which side of the pond you bought it and when). I can reskin that in a matter of minutes, and be ready to roll next time there is a chance to play. What will we need?

Monsters

  • Goblins, orcs, skeletons and zombies are standard Savage Worlds monsters, and slot right in.
  • Mummies in Heroquest are essentially souped up zombies, and fimir are likewise souped up orcs. Fimir can be SW orc chieftains, and mummies can be Wild Card zombies.
  • Gargoyles in this game, including Verag, are “stone statues of great monsters”, so I’ll use whatever SW monster I feel like at the time, but apply the Construct ability and possibly more Toughness to represent their stony hides.
  • Chaos warriors – experienced soldiers with plate armour and battle axes. Chaos warlock (including Balur, Grak) – experienced soldier template with Arcane Background (Magic), Blast, Bolt, Deflect and Healing.

NPCs

  • Mentor, Morcar (aka Zargon), the Emperor and Prince Magnus never actually appear in the scenarios, although several of them act as patrons. Therefore, they need no stats. As I’ve already selected a vague parallel version of England in 1010 AD as the PCs’ home kingdom, the Emperor should logically be Ethelred the Unready, and his heir apparent is Ethelstan. Mentor can be Myrddin, the insane northern bard-prophet that Merlin seems originally based upon. Morcar is a good enough name for the obligatory Dark Lord, and historically one of Ethelred’s ministers was called Morcar – oh, the possibilities! But let’s not get carried away with them just yet.
  • Sir Ragnar: Starts the game Shaken, but his name is irrelevant really – he’s a minor character who only appears in one scenario.
  • Ulag is an Orc Chieftain.
  • The Witch Lord is, of course, a Liche. He is immune to all attacks except those inflicted by the Spirit Blade. The heroes would be well advised to run away if they don’t have that.

Treasure

  • One gold piece = $10.
  • The Talisman of Lore bestows the Wizard edge on its bearer, for as long as he wears it.
  • The sword Orc’s Bane counts as being imbued with the Smite power, but only against orcs.
  • The Spirit Blade is the only weapon which can harm the Witch Lord, and it also ignores his magical armour, reducing his effective Toughness to 9.
  • I have no need to convert other magic items, because in my campaigns magic is very rare and powerful.

At the current session frequency, the 14 scenarios in the basic quest book will keep me going for at least 6 months, and there are a number of other quest books should I need more. Job done.

If you want to explore this concept yourself, MB offers the original rules and scenario booklets as free PDF downloads – it does this for many games, presumably as a service to those who own the game but have lost some of the parts. Google, and ye shall find.

The Third Terran Imperium

“Earth itself became a garden planet, bearing only one city worth noticing, the sleepy capitol of a galaxy. Pittsburgh valley bloomed, and rich honeymooners went there to frolic. Old bureaucrats went to Earth to die. Nobody else went there at all.” – James Blish; Earthman, Come Home.

Here’s an idea for a variant Classic Traveller campaign.

Use Supplement 3 (The Spinward Marches), but declare Porozlo to be Earth – it has the right physical characteristics – and spiritual home of the Third Terran Imperium. The real seat of power is Mars (Rhylanor – again it has the right stats), which for astrogation purposes is one jump away, so represented as being in a different hex, even though it is in the same star system as Earth.

The Rhylanor subsector doesn’t look much like local space, so one also has to declare either a change in scale (perhaps one hex is 5 or even 10 parsecs), or say that the map of hyperspace is different from the map of real space.

The rest of the Spinward Marches and most other support materials can be used as is, but the Imperium is likely to be much smaller, perhaps only 3-4 sectors in size, and younger. The reduced age can be handled by dropping the first two Imperia and any reference to the Vilani, making the age of the Imperium (let’s say 1105 years) as far back as human interstellar travel goes.